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Zola Jesus – Okovi

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Operatic darkwave project makes its best work yet from the pain of loss.

Image of Zola Jesus – Okovi

(Sacred Bones, released Fri 8 Sept)

Okovi doesn’t really break out from the Zola Jesus mould – each track radiates with the darkness that follows a luminescent afterglow – but there are notably fewer synthesised sounds here, making the album a close sibling of 2013’s compilation of orchestral reworks Versions. There’s a starkness to these compositions that befits their sorrowful subject matter, as Nika Roza Danilova meditates on love, illness and death. Witness is one of her most disarming works not merely because of its strikingly literal narrative of a loved one on the brink of suicide (“to be a witness / to keep that knife from you”), but also because of its sparse string section accompaniment. It’s a magisterial, operatic lament, not unlike what Björk produced on Homogenic, minus a glitchy beat track adornment.

The versatility of vocalist Danilova – classically-inclined, bellowing one minute and unguarded the next – is as commanding as ever, but Okovi sees her truly mastering her knack for big pop hooks. Both the stomping almost-elegy Siphon and the propulsive Remains ought to be future Goth night classics, while Veka pulsates with the same droning eeriness that Dean Hurley brought to the recent series of Twin Peaks, before it unfolds into a thumping darkwave dance-off. There’s enough here to rival any heartstring-tugging warbler, almost to the extent of being subversive, as if Danilova’s attempting to subvert pop from the inside.

Where 2010’s album Stridulum II marked a stylistic movement away from the lo-fi ornamentation of her debut, Okovi feels like a proper maturation of what Danilova’s been leaning into for nearly a decade. Suffice to say, it’s her best work to date.